The River by Peter Heller (Edgar Award Nomination for Best Novel)

The tension is palatable from the very beginning.

What they wanted by giving themselves almost a month, more, to cross the lakes and run the river was a voyage with no end date…Most of their previous river trips had been a hustle, because they were students with jobs and so their time off was short. They wanted to try this, to feel.what it was actually like to live in the landscape a little. But now everyrhing had changed. The fire they’d seen the other night and the early frost changed it. (p. 19-20)

The fog, and the impending fire, are not the only things that threaten Wynn and Jack, two friends canoeing in Canada. They encounter two men who are drunk, and then they overhear an argument between a man and a woman coming through the fog. Later, they stop a man in a canoe from going over the falls, and when he approaches them they can see he is in a state of shock. His wife, it seems, has disappeared. Did he kill her? Were they attacked by the two drunks? Was it a bear that caused such harm?

He (Jack) was forming a theory. He was gathering evidence and he would indict and convict the man before they even met him again. Wynn wouldn’t. It was plausible. It was. A whole handful of possibilities. The Texans with their quiet motor could have stalked the couple in the fog. The poor man, Pierre, in the grip of terror, had lost his wife and fled this new bear here by the falls, or fled them. Thinking that they had been the ones who had taken her in the mist and were now probably after him. (p. 106)

The two young men care for the woman, struggle to keep them all alive, and outrun both the fire and the man ahead of them whom they suspect is a threat. It seemed unrealistic in places, that they could escape the fire or escape their hunger. My interest waned…and then, at the end, my heart broke. I thought I would like it much more than I did, as the beginning was so strong, and the ending so piercing. Maybe I just didn’t like how upsetting it was, and for the ability to imbue that much emotion, Peter Heller ought to win something.

I have read four of the five books listed for Best Novel. So far, my favorite two are Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham and Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland. After a brief summary post of the Edgar Award contenders, I will return to Japanese literature. And, soon there will be a few books reviewed for Boekenweek which begins March 7. (Boekenweek is a ten day celebration of Dutch literature which first began in 1932.)

8 thoughts on “The River by Peter Heller (Edgar Award Nomination for Best Novel)

    • I am so glad you were able to find it and are listening to it! I have really enjoyed the nominations, even though reading them is taking me (temporarily) away from Japanese literature. I have to “strike while the iron is hot” (i.e. the library has them for me). I have conflicting emotions about The River. While it is very (very!) powerful, it was so upsetting to me. For that reason, I can’t give it a glowing review, which just shows how unobjective I can be. Or, too tender. xo


  1. What a pity it does not hold until the end. Sounds very thrilling from the beginning. If I happen to run into it, I might try it anyway.


    • There is no denying that it is thrilling, and also that the story is woven together beautifully. I think you should try it; so many readers love it, and of course, it was chosen as a top five finalist for the Edgar Award. It just made me so sad!


  2. My heart was broken, as well. I’m sorry the tension wasn’t as evenly paced as I experienced, but there were a few occassions of incredulity. I still plan to re-read The Dog Stars sometime this year. I’m also anxious to get my hands on a copy of Good Girl, Bad Girl.


    • I found it a little hard to believe that two young men would care for a woman who was a stranger so flawlessly (denying themselves food for her sake, helping her urinate, etc.). And yet, it shows their character of compassionate strength…I am of a mixed mind about this novel, and I probably should have written my review a day or two after I processed it, instead of the night I finished it. I can tell I will be thinking about it for a long time…the contrast between the evil Texans and Pierre with the goodness of Wynn and Jack is one thing to consider. What overwhelmed me last night is the sorrow that Jack faced, and yet, who of us doesn’t bear incredible pain? That Peter Heller could make me feel so strongly certainly says something. It is a fascinating book, and I can’t fault it for making me grieve.


  3. Pingback: The Year in Reading: 2020 Wrap Up – Dolce Bellezza

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